Christmas Party – 5 Top Trends and Tips for Perfect Food and Drink

I get by with a little help from my friends…

I take pride in being the “Christmas party guru” at ITA* towers, but I feel even more proud to be part of such a fantastic team. It’s not just that I’m confident in recommending any of our venues and never hesitate to gush about the quality of food we can offer through both Chester Boyd and Ampersand, but I also know that I have a wealth of awesome knowledge available to access any time I want!

Summer is almost over and before you know Christmas will be upon us! So, this week, I checked in with some of the top people across ITA*, Chester Boyd and Ampersand to find out their thoughts on how to make this Christmas the merriest and tastiest yet.

Festive Cocktails

What better way to get the party started than with a festive cocktail! The gourmet cocktail trend shows no sign of abating, and over at Rum & Sugar the mixology masterminds have been working on their own naughty but very nice take on that Christmas favourite, the chocolate orange.

“This is our take on a ‘Chocolate Orange’ – great for parties and very easy to make

25ml Vodka
12.5ml Crème de Cacao
12.5ml Triple sec

Placed everything in a shaker with ice, give it your best bartender shake, and then strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with a chocolate stick, or a chocolate orange segment.”

– Paul Williams, General Manager at Rum & Sugar

Christmas Dinner with a Fine Dining Twist

Fine dining never goes out of style! And as Karen Poynter is the only person I know who can turn a traditional hearty breakfast into a fine dining experience, I knew she was the lady to talk to about fabulous festive feasts.

My favourite item from this year’s Chester Boyd Christmas menu is my Gressingham duck breast. It’s served with mulled wine, salsify, Brussels sprout tops, and spiced orange cranberry sauce.

It’s a nice alternative to turkey that still has a lovely festive and “wintery” feel. Choosing duck definitely feels more modern and on-trend, but it comes with all the trimmings, so you really get the best of both worlds.

PS. Being duck, it gives the impression of a premium choice, but this dish is part of the standard menu, with no supplement cost!

– Karen Poynter – Executive Chef for CH&Co Commercial

The Perfect Match – Wine

At Chester Boyd, they know that the quality of a meal can be made or broken by the wine you serve it with. A perfect match can take your fabulous dinner into the stratosphere, while a bad one can leave a nasty taste in your mouth. I asked Sarah Pittaway what she would recommend to get the corks popping at your party.

No celebration is complete without bubbles! This year’s favourite has to be home grown Nyetimber from West Sussex. At last an English sparkling wine that really stands up to and, in my opinion, beats all but the most expensive champagnes.

With Turkey
It is all too easy to say “white wine with white meat”, but with a Christmas meal things are not so simple. Stuffing, cranberries and winter vegetables create a plate of complex flavours, so if you do stick to white it should be a very robust oak aged Chardonnay. You’ll find the best value tends to come from the US. Reds, too, ought to be robust to avoid being drowned out by the food, so probably a Shiraz/Grenache blend. This is where the French Rhone reds are best, a Chateau Neuf du Pape is always a safe bet.

– Sarah Pittaway, Director of Operations for Chester Boyd

A Little Christmas Magic – Chef Techniques

We all know that it’s the little twists and unexpected moments that really bring a Christmas Party to life, but that’s not just about finding out which manager has the best dance moves! A technical flourish on the plate will delight your guests and keep them talking for months to come. So, I asked Gary Devereaux what food trends and techniques he sees cropping up in this year’s menus.

Don’t be surprised to see a side of pickled cucumbers this Christmas. It’s all part of another big trend for 2014 — what is old is new again. There’s a lot of interest in not only legacy preparation techniques, but also heirloom produce, like apples and tomatoes. Even in the alcoholic beverage category there is an “aged” aspect.

Hybrid desserts
(e.g. cronut, ice cream cupcake): The cronut started a dessert frenzy, and while it may be ‘so 2013’, it spurred the dessert mash-up trend. It’s a fun way to make-over the usual Christmas treats, but it also gives restaurants an opportunity to differentiate themselves.

– Gary Devereaux, Executive Chef for CH&Co Commercial

Our Christmas menus feature an amazing hybrid dessert – Christmas pudding crème brûlée. It’s a super chic (and super tasty) way to add a traditional touch to the end of your meal, without any stodginess to slow you down on the dance floor.

Sweet Treats, Theming and “Wow Factor” on a Budget

Never one to neglect my sweet tooth, I knew Natalie from Ampersand Events would be the perfect Sugar Plum Fairy!

At Ampersand Events, we have found that guests are strapped on budgets for theming but they still want food that creates a wow moment, decorates the table and creates interaction.

We have come up with some great ideas for clients, for example, one is having Tiffany colour theming, so we are going to wrap iconic turquoise boxes with white bows. When it’s time for dessert, waiting staff will present small envelopes to each of the guests… A simple note will be enclosed:

‘What are you waiting for? Dessert was always here. Open your presents!’

Inside the boxes will be gorgeous Christmas treats to devour.

– Natalie Mainwaring – Events Creative Director for Ampersand

We’ve got less than four months until the Christmas party season kicks off, but my mouth is watering already!

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